Becoming vegan meant re-examining many of my previous assumptions about what constituted good and healthy food. This included what I eat during the Jewish holidays.
Growing up in an Ashkenazic home, we followed the tradition of European Jews and refrained from eating kitniyot (legumes, rice and similar foods) during Passover. As a teenager, I became vegan and so my Passover food experience through my 20s was focused on potatoes, sweet potatoes, vegetables, fruits and a bit of matzah (too much makes me constipated).
In my 30s, I got married and had a child and it was during my daughter’s first 5 years, that I decided to stop following the Ashkenazi tradition and adopt the Sephardic tradition instead.
Here is what happened: Observing Passover in a family again, the kitniyot ban started not to feel right. All year round, we eat a plant centered diet of fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, roots/tubers, intact whole grains and legumes such as beans, peas and lentils. My daughter is not entirely vegan, but she too eats mostly plant-based foods. I noticed that she was not as satisfied with meals when we observed Passover without rice and legumes. Besides, I simply did not feel comfortable with this restrictive feeling about food in our house and for my child during the Passover week.
Here’s what I realized about kitniyot: The custom not to eat them on Passover is just that: a custom. Sephardic Jews have never had this tradition, and enjoy all foods on the holiday which are not made of leavened bread. The Ashkenazic tradition not to eat them is not even that ancient. It came about in the thirteenth century and the reasons for it are not all that clear. The ones given by later rabbis are not too convincing and they feel irrelevant.
Grains and legumes are not so easy to confuse, whether in raw format or cooked/baked. The bags we buy in the supermarket, or even in an open air market, are clearly labeled and not mixed with other products. And there are no grain stalks growing among the rice pads or in the corn fields and finding their way into our kitniyot.
It’s important to me to eat in a healthy way, all year round. Passover is no exception. If that means I have to pivot away from the traditions of my childhood, so be it. I also grew up eating M&Ms and Oreos, but I’m not sticking to that tradition either. When I wrote my vegan Passover cookbook, I included recipes with ingredients such as rice, beans and lentils. I know there are people who won’t make these recipes, but I know there are plenty who will.
Your turn: What do you think? Is it valid to give up religious traditions for health reasons? Is kitniyot really an important ban?